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The Light Roller

We salute the best and brightest of 2021 with these totally not made-up awards

Time to share in the highs and rows, joys and Paine of a year of cricket that kept on giving

Tim Paine poses for photos after an Ashes press conference, Brisbane, June 14, 2021

Tim Paine: sledged... and gone  •  Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images

It's the time of year to look back, take stock, and be thankful for what we have. The pandemic has been hard on us all, but at least 2021 was not short on cricket's greatest gift: bilateral contests between the Big Three. It is also a time for giving, so what better way for the Light Roller to thank the revolving cast that helps fill our lives with joy and laughter each month than to hand out a few seasonal baubles.
Tim Paine Award for Self-Pwnage
Winner: Tim Paine
The year began strongly for Paine and his, shall we say, unique brand of sledging. Not long after he had attempted to ruffle India's R Ashwin during a vexatious stand that cost his side victory at the SCG with "Can't wait to get you to the Gabba, Ash", did Australia give up their 32-year unbeaten run in Brisbane. Then, with uncertainty surrounding England's tour, he made a bold proclamation: "The Ashes are going ahead. The first Test is on December 8, whether Joe [Root] is here or not." Of course, as became evident a few short weeks later after revelations about Paine's text-messaging history, the Ashes were going ahead - whether Tim was there or not.
Best Team Performance in a Comedy or Musical
Winners: England
There's not been loads for fans of the human race to cheer about in recent times, but at least we still have nostalgia to make us feel warm and fuzzy. Those watching England play Test cricket for much of 2021 will have found themselves instantly transported back to the 1990s - far away from concerns caused by global warming, authoritarian nationalism, and the terrifying rise of Justin Bieber. From Ahmedabad to Brisbane, they've not missed a punchline (although the batters have missed several straight ones). Rumours are that Disney have signed up the top order to star in a remake of another '90s classic: The Mighty Ducks.
Honourable mention: Bangladesh's T20 World Cup campaign
Non-Nobel Peace Prize
Winners: West Indies
Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell - for nigh on a decade, these behemoths have ranged planet earth, ravaging attacks, stomping mercilessly on opposition captains, ripping coaches' plans against them to shreds, annihilating T20 careers wholesale. For so long, they were the face of cricketing violence. And yet, in the T20 World Cup this year, something incredible happened. Like Robert J Oppenheimer looking on in dread at the destruction caused by the nuclear bomb he helped create, the West Indies batters laid down arms and chose a more peaceful path. When they were all out for 55 against England - the new flag bearers for brutality - it was like watching hippies put flowers into the barrels of guns.
The SLC Administrators' Award for Services to SLC Administrators
Winner:It's the boys again!
Absolute juggernauts in this category, those running Sri Lanka Cricket have stormed to victory for the tenth year in a row, champions that they are. Whether it was sucking up slavishly to the country's sports minister, appointing new owners for the LPL that aligned with their political and corporate interests, standing valiantly in the way of the positive changes past players were trying to bring about, putting servile yes-people in plum positions, all while having the broadcasters point the cameras at them every time Sri Lanka were doing well in a match, these guys will always be the GOATs. Put some damn respect on their names.
Jagmohan Dalmiya Cricket Statesman of the Year
Winner: Sourav Ganguly
The Big Dada has been making his heft felt in boardrooms around the world, and looks increasingly comfortable in his role. Witness such shapeshifting smarts as dissing cricketers from other countries who "give up on mental health [grounds]", before supporting the India players' refusal to play at Old Trafford, saying, "You can't blame them… it's not easy staying in a bubble." On postponing the England tour, he initially suggested a rescheduled Test "cannot be a continuation of the series" before clarifying 24 hours later that "the Test match that will be played later will be the fifth match". Capisce?
To his credit, Ganguly did become the first BCCI president to acknowledge the term "conflict of interest" when standing down from his role with an Indian Super League football club. He still seems to be coining it on the brand-endorsements side, so extra kudos for knowing just where to draw the ethical line.
Honourable mentions: Ramiz Raja (Pakistan), Nazmul Hasan Papon (Bangladesh)
Coach of the Year
Winner: Justin Langer
He oversaw victory at the T20 World Cup and another Ashes drubbing (1-0 up with four to play), but most of all, Langer won back hearts and minds. Things were looking a little rocky, after it emerged several Australia players were having a hard time dealing with the intensity of Langer's management style. Chewing out a cricket.com.au staffer in Bangladesh suggested the control freakery might be terminal - but then came revelation in the desert, where Langer discovered enlightenment/several discarded self-help manuals. "Never mind how you're playing the ball on off stump - are you looking after the balance of your chakras?" Australia haven't looked back. BE YOURSELF, JL, YOU ARE SPECIAL.
Honourable mentions: Mickey Arthur's shorts (Sri Lanka), Nazmul Hasan Papon (Bangladesh)
The #Sorrynotsorry Award
Winners: Anyone who absolutely did not do anything wrong to Azeem Rafiq
Folks. Stop it now. Michael Vaughan, Tim Bresnan, Gary Ballance - they've all come out and made public statements. They're all dismayed, appalled, distressed, saddened, dismayed and appalled at what happened to Rafiq at Yorkshire. It's disgraceful.
However, and they were absolutely not building up to this part, they themselves did not do any of the racisms people misremember them doing, and even if the stories of their racisms are corroborated by others, please remember it's about systemic change and not individual responsibility, and screw those who are making these allegations - frankly, too many of them lot.
Captain of the Year, in Association With HBO's Succession
Winner: Rohit Sharma
Look at him, such a fine figure of a man. Twinkly eyes, charismatic smile, not-too-coiffed beard. Wins the toss and makes everyone chuckle at the press conference afterwards. And look at all those IPL trophies… Sure, Rohit has only captained India in three games of cricket this year. But can anyone even remember the previous guy?
Services to Women's Cricket
Winner: SLC
They did at least pretend to try to organise a tour for the women's team this year. Is it their fault that the other board in question didn't seem to know anything about it?
Services to Mankind
Winner: The Hundred
Okay, be honest now. How many of you really understand what's going on in T20? Even the top teams employ MIT-educated data nerds to tell them what to do. But then some visionary in the ECB's marketing department came up with the Hundred, and lo, the scales fell from our eyes! No more six-balls-to-an-over-20-overs-to-an-innings nonsense - aka advanced calculus to the average schmo in the street. Just balls, 100 of 'em. Simple as that! Sure, there was some other stuff that was a tad confusing, such as how many a bowler bowled in a row and from which end. Plus timeouts and penalties for missing the cut-off, whatever that is. It's easy to lose track… But 100 balls! Such beautiful clarity, people. And it all takes 15 minutes less than a T20, which is a heck of a saving, when you think about it. Cricket - in fact, life as we know it - will never be the same again.
Martin Luther King Antiracism Award
Winner: Yorkshire They suggested in their report into racism allegations that "P**i" wasn't an offensive word, but maligned Rafiq for using the word "Zimbo". Honestly, these guys just get racism.
You're Cancelled - People's No-Choice Award
Winner: We all lost India sacking off the Manchester Test. New Zealand and England pulling out of tours to Pakistan. Australia cancelling Afghanistan's visit. Apparently the only way for players to get a break from the treadmill of international cricket these days is for their boards to postpone a series - and then attempt to shoehorn the fixtures into a non-existent gap in the calendar six months down the line. We would say that hopefully the ICC will help get a grip on things when putting together the next FTP… but to be honest you're probably better off writing a letter to Santa.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. Andrew Fidel Fernando is the site's Sri Lanka correspondent